Golden Pine Trees and Radiation Exposure

July 31, 2011

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Living in a small town during one’s time abroad has many advantages. Not only do I save money by not indulging in imported products and decadent nights out you big city folks enjoy, but I also have fewer options. I mean this in the best possible terms: by limiting my options, I can ensure I feel a lot less stress. I don’t have to worry about trivia night going on in one pub at the same time my friends invited me to a 소주방 across town. Why choose between twenty different cultural sights when I have but one?

Of course, it can be a little maddening at times. As far as I know, there isn’t much you can do in Bugu besides hiking, using the Energy Farm athletic facility, soaking at Deokgu Hot Springs, eating, drinking, watching the sunrise over the East Sea, and of course, checking out a rare genetic abnormality among the local flora.

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I saw this sign on my first visit to Deokgu, about a week after my arrival in Korea. At that time, I just assumed I’d make a Sunday hike out of it one weekend, and that was that. It turned out most of my Sundays this past year were spent not exploring the countryside, but recovering from whatever shenanigans kept me occupied Saturday – not all bad, I assure you. I’ve been extremely concerned about how my behavior might change to more closely resemble a sloth’s once I return to the US in October. Although I’m certainly entitled to a day in bed with ice cream after a full week teaching ill-behaved children, I can remember quite a few of those days in Austin when my freelance work wasn’t really paying the bills, and yet, rather than continue working and looking for alternative employment, I chose the way of the sloth.

With less than two months to go before my uncertain future in Korea, however, I chose the hike. Each fork in the road leading to someone I was guaranteed to not see from lying in bed with a cup of Häagen-Dazs.

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My first surprise came rather quickly: a General Electric Gamma Radiation Detector with a prominent “MADE IN U.S.A.” sticker. With all the concerns of radioactive isotopes in Japan, it’s nice to be able to put a number on my level of exposure here. Even though I’m just a short walk away from six very active nuclear reactors, I harbor no fears nor illusions about what might happen if there is an accident. In the meantime, I’m certain I’m receiving 12 milliroentgens/hour of ionizing radiation at a distance of roughly 7 km. Easily within safe levels.

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Back to nature. The journey to the golden pine took me through many small Korean villages I probably would have never seen had my curious not gotten the best of me. A weathered man was sitting on the steps of his house with the old style short doors. I nodded to him as I passed, and greeted a family of returning hikers with a friendly 안녕하세요. Before too long, I discovered what all the fuss was about.

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The golden pine (황금소나무), a genetic abnormality in the pine tree family. A tree whose leaves produce slightly less chlorophyll than those in its species. I suppose to some travelers a tree might be a slightly anti-climatic way to end a journey, but my goal was to simply explore. Had I not left my apartment today, I would never have discovered the radiation detector. Had I had discovered the detector, I would never have been tempted to brush up on my nuclear physics. Either way, I am a product of my experience. Whenever something good happens, it happens entirely because my life has been leading to me to that moment in that frame of mind.

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The road is always calling me to come and go as I see fit, to figure out who I am and with whom I want to share the journey.

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One Response to Golden Pine Trees and Radiation Exposure

  1. Andrea on August 1, 2011 at 3:25 am

    The radiation issue in Japan is certainly interesting and quite scary – you’re right, it’s good to know what you’re exposed to. Our planned month trip to Japan later this year is in doubt because we’re just not sure we can trust what they think they know over there.

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